What a Church in the Texas Hill Country Can Teach Us About Developing a Customer Focus

Part of CHG’s mission is to give back to our communities.  We spend a majority of our time working with for profit business, but also dedicate a percentage of our time working with non-profits pro-bono.

One non-profit I am particularly fond of is a church in the Texas hill country.  It is situated on top of a steep hill overlooking the beautiful Texas hill country.  The land becomes painted with bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes in the spring.  In the fall, the grass turns gold and the topography reveals limestone outcroppings as far as the eye can see.  The church is a simple building overlooking the magnificent Texas scenery.  The people inside the church are some of the warmest people I have ever met.

So, what can business learn about developing a customer focus from a church in the Texas hill country?

 


1. Listen to Your Customers

The 1st step in any strategy development endeavor is to listen to the customer’s needs.  Don’t solely rely on qualitative data and don’t solely rely on quantitative data.  Combine both the qualitative and quantitative to get a true picture of what is compelling to your customers.

Our first step with the church was to simply listen.  We listened to the church leadership, members of the congregation, and the community.  This step is vitally important.  You can’t rely on a single data point from a survey. The power to influence change comes from the ability to tell a story around the data point.  The qualitative phase brings in the stories that will become vital when trying to sell an idea.

CHG was hired by a Fortune 500 company to advise on how to enter a new market.  When we were presenting the market report, a data point came into question.  The data point was steering them into a very different direction than they were currently going.  It was also a controversial internal issue.  If we just had that single data point to go off of, the leadership would have discounted it and stayed on the same course.  

We spent over a month, face-to-face with their customers just listening.  We were able to back up that data point in question with quotes from some of the most influential people in the industry.  We were able to bring to life the data point with anecdotes and examples.  During the meeting, we even called one of the customers we spoke with, and he told his own story.  The data point now had a story.  That story became compelling, and we were able to influence change.  

Through the qualitative interviews with the church, we found a warm, loving, and welcoming congregation.  They truly care about their church and their community.  I knew this was a special place right from the beginning.

We collected all the stories from the church and moved on to the next phase of building a customer focus.  

 

 

2. Quantify Your Customer’s Needs

Part of the church’s mission is to help plant other churches in the area.  They recently sent more than 20% of their congregation to a neighboring city to plant a new church.  It is a great mission to have, but means that their congregation numbers will fluctuate over the years.  We needed to figure out the health of the core congregation they had left to give stability for future growth.

The church has a little over 200 members and we received over 150 responses to our survey.  Among other things, we asked questions around the service, community, members, and programs.  We built an interdependent statistical model.  What we found was truly insightful.

The overall satisfaction with the church was not as high as I thought it was going to be.  I was in a conundrum because through the qualitative phase everyone was very pleased with the church.  Again, this is why you should combine both qualitative and quantitative data.  It was time for some deep data analysis.

We went segment by segment pulling out samples of data to see where the outlier was.  We looked by marital status, age group, gender, number of kids etc. and couldn’t find the outlier.  Finally, we sliced it by whether or not they participated in a homegroup.  Bingo!  There was a 24% increase in the likelihood to leave the church if the member was not part of a homegroup!  

A homegroup is essentially a group of families that meet on a regular basis outside of the church service.  They listen to each other, eat together, kids play together, pray together, and essentially become extended family.  From a qualitative perspective; it makes sense that being in a homegroup makes the congregation loyal, but to see that 24% number was truly eye opening!  

The homegroup also provides accountability and the data proves this.  Over 89% of the respondents that were part of a homegroup attended church 4 Sundays per month with over 96% attending at least 3 Sundays per month!  Even if you remove the bias of the feeling of God watching you take the survey – that is an incredibly high number!  We had our first action item.  Get members in a homegroup!

So how does a business replicate this with their customers?

 

 

There was a 24% increase in the likelihood to leave the church if the member was not part of a homegroup!
The customer now felt engaged, had skin in the game, and were part of the solution as opposed to being sold to!

3. Establish a Customer Council

We worked with a Fortune 100 who brought us in to figure out why their product wasn’t selling like the business case said it would.  We went through all their internal documents, reviewed their business plans, and reviewed their financial information.  Everything looked great.

We then sat through an internal 5-day workshop dissecting every aspect of their product’s process.   At the end of the session they had over 300 sticky notes on the board, each representing a step in their process.  I kept quiet most of the 5 days, mainly due to the Abraham Lincoln meme I just read on Facebook: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

However, I knew I had found the problem on the first day.  At the end of the 5 days I asked one question: “Show me which one of those sticky notes engages the customer?”  Not a single one engages the customer! Immediately, everyone was furious at me for not speaking up on day 1!

We set up our version of a homegroup, called it a Customer Council, and engaged the market in the problem.  We flew in customers from around the world who were interested in the problem being solved.  We broke them out into smaller groups focused and focused on different aspects of the problem being solved.  We essentially created ‘homegroups’ for a Fortune 100 company (minus the kids playing together).  

The customer now felt engaged, had skin in the game, and were part of the solution as opposed to being sold to!  

Setting up the customer council also positioned the company as a leader in this space and built a level of customer intimacy that was unmatched.  

 

4. Execute on Meaningful Customer Metrics

Many companies will come to us and say they want to achieve ‘X amount of revenue by year X; can you help us?’  The first question I always ask is: “Who is your target customer, and what are your customers’ needs?”  If they can’t answer that question, I tell them to forget about the financial target for now.  Shift the thinking from revenue focused to serving a target segment; then work your way up to a meaningful financial target.

As an example, the church’s bottom line is very different from a business.  The good churches are interested in the spiritual health of their ‘customers’.  The incorrect metric to set is an overall growth number (butts in the seat).  We wanted the church to be specific on what they wanted to accomplish so we looked at the numbers.

One metric that became very important to them was they didn’t have any new Christians in their congregation.  In fact, 93% of the congregation have been Christians for more than 20 years.   Aha!  Now, we have a clear goal and number to measure against.  For example, a clear metric of achieving 20% new Christians in two years, aligns to their mission, is meaningful, and can be executed on.  It also becomes a rallying cry to the members, homegroups, and leadership – much more so than a vague number for membership size.

Take a financial target you currently have.  Ask yourself: ‘Who are your target customers and what are their needs?’  If you can’t specifically answer that question; you probably need to re-visit your strategy.

 

Ask yourself: ‘Who are your target customers and what are their needs?’  If you can’t specifically answer that question; you probably need to re-visit your strategy.

Developing a deep customer focus is hard to achieve but worth doing because it is also hard to replicate.  From churches to businesses, it is vital to understand your target.  A customer focus is much like a doctor/patient relationship.  The doctor can diagnose the patient’s symptoms much better than the patient can.  Use the business diagnosis steps below to develop a deep customer focus:

  • Listen to your customers – Take the time to speak with them.  Listen to their needs and don’t try to sell them anything.
  • Quantify what they say using statistical models.  Having both qualitative and quantitative data points is vital.  Data points only give a partial picture – use the qualitative to make the data points come to life
  • Form a ‘homegroup’ to engage the customer – Your product is probably a great product, but isn’t selling because the customer is not engaged or convinced.  Form a customer council to quickly engage the customer.
  • Execute on meaningful customer metrics.  Don’t set vague revenue targets.  Be specific and make sure it is aligned to your overall strategy and what is meaningful to the customer.

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About the Author

Mike Francis

Mike Francis is the president of The Coffee House Group which specializes in transforming companies from product centric to customer centric.

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